The financial devastation inflicted by COVID-19 could have a silver lining for New Yorkers: mobile sports betting.
Advocates in the state are increasingly optimistic that mobile betting is gaining traction as a potential revenue stream.
Its implementation could eventually bring millions in revenue to a state with a nearly $13 billion deficit.
But there are serious roadblocks to getting mobile betting in New York. Those include a powerful governor who believes the policy would require a constitutional amendment, plus confusion about its political popularity.
An opportunity to strike while the iron is hot
Public excitement around mobile betting increased in mid-July when news broke that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was questioning lawmakers on their positions.
Financial shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic have boosted interest in the topic. That includes a possible softening in previous opposition voices.
Meanwhile, it’s unknown how much in federal stimulus funds the state will receive. Any decisions are unlikely to be finalized before that information is known.
But whatever the amount distributed by Washington is, it will not resolve the heightened talks in New York focused on finding solutions to balance the state’s budget.
Instead, it will become a question of how much money the state needs to raise. The higher that amount, the better the chances are for mobile betting proponents.
Mobile betting would not only raise tax revenue, but also millions in operating fees. The return of major American sports and recent betting windfalls also bode well for the future of mobile wagering in the state.
Mobile sports betting money heading across state lines
The idea of allowing New Jersey to reap the benefits of New York sports bettors sounds especially distasteful right now.
While sports gambling is legal inside New York casinos, those living closer to the New Jersey border often choose to make their way to the Garden State.
A February study estimated New York lost roughly $6 million in tax revenue to New Jersey last year. A lack of downstate sportsbooks and mobile betting options attributed to those losses.
Advocates also argue that mobile betting in New York would cut down on wagers in illegal offshore sportsbooks.
“I was not favorably inclined in the past. But I’m open to mobile sports betting now because of the economic environment we’re in,” Assemblyman Tom Abinanti told the New York Post in July.
“New Jersey is doing well with it. New Jersey is taking money from New Yorkers.”
Are there enough votes to make mobile betting a reality?
There may be enough votes for mobile betting. It’s hard to tell.
While it’s likely Senate support remains, vote counts taken by Heastie and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow tell different stories.
Pretlow said he tallied 84 votes in favor of mobile sports betting. That number could get as high as 88 when considering those worried about New York’s finances, he noted.
That would leave plenty of room above the 76 votes needed for a majority. Pretlow and state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. have led the charge for mobile betting in New York.
“In my conversations with leadership, they indicated that it will probably be put in the revenue package … whenever that is,’’ Pretlow told local media last week.
Heastie, meanwhile, has said he found only 69 votes in favor.
Speculation and personal desires uphold much of the conversation around mobile betting in New York. And it’s hard to draw a conclusion from the vote-count discrepancies.
Still, the cynicism expressed by Heastie is not a good sign. It is also possible the gambling industry focus will shift to build needed support of new casinos in the New York City area.
And it’s likely the votes don’t even matter.
Cuomo a tall hurdle for mobile betting in New York
Gov. Andrew Cuomo could veto any legislative proposal. The governor is a well-chronicled skeptic of using the typical legislative process to enact mobile betting.
Instead, Cuomo believes mobile betting requires the ratification of a constitutional amendment. Such a process would include two legislative approvals, an OK from voters, and take multiple years.
Cuomo’s view is also reportedly held by Heastie. It possibly explains Heastie’s willingness to land at a vote total well below Pretlow’s and the needed majority.
Cuomo’s seemingly cemented stance is bad news for mobile betting proponents. Most notably, it means Cuomo could veto any legislative revenue package containing mobile betting legalization.
And with all the state needs, it seems unlikely leading lawmakers would risk Cuomo’s ire.
But that hasn’t slowed the optimism.
“[Cuomo] would say no to paid family leave and now we have it, he would say no to medical marijuana and now we have it,” said Addabbo.
“So this might be another one, where he finally realizes we could do this, we should realize this revenue and stop losing it to other states.”